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Homeschooling in Pennsylvania
by Howard Richman
On this website, you will find many resources that can help you with homeschooling in Pennsylvania, including:
Legalization of Private Homeschooling in PA. Our five year lobbying effort (1984-1988) culminated with the passage of Act 169 of 1988 our home education law which legalized private homeschooling in Pennsylvania. (You can read about this legislative effort in Story of a Bill which is available online!) Before the lobbying effort more PA homeschoolers were being prosecuted than in any other state, about 50 according to the Home School Legal Defense Association. In those days, many homeschoolers had to move from district to district or homeschool underground in order to avoid prosecution. Now the rules for homeschooling are the same throughout Pennsylvania. They permit any high school graduate to homeschool his or her children if he or she puts in the necessary effort.
Recognition of Homeschoolers Diplomas. Our PA home education law recognizes homeschoolers' diplomas, but the Department of Education was difficult to pin down about who was to award them. At first all they told us was negatives -- school districts didn't have to award them, they didn't want to award them, and they didn't think parents should award them to their own children. Finally, in October 1990 they decided that homeschool organizations should award them as homeschool organizations would be interested in maintaining the quality of the diplomas, so in 1991 we founded PHAA, which is now just one of several homeschool organizations awarding diplomas to graduates of PA home education programs. Our diplomas and those of the other organizations are recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.
Keeping School Entrance Age at 8. Pennsylvania has one of the best compulsory school entrance ages in the nation although from 1991 to 1994, Governor Casey had bills introduced in both the House and the Senate to lower it from 8 to 6. We fought successfully to bottle up those bills and then, when Governor Casey retired, we secured a campaign promise from his successor (Governor Ridge) not to change the compulsory school age.
Preventing regulations that have slightly lowered school entrance age and placed new entrants in first grade. On October 30, 1995, Mary Ann Nobers, the Deputy Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education issued a Basic Education Circular (BEC #8-95) to school districts on the subject of "Age Limits for School Attendance." We took action which resulted in the bad language being removed from the directive.
Protecting and promoting friendly evaluators. From 1997 to 2000 I successfully worked with the legislature to insure that homeschool evaluators would not have to take college courses every few years in order to insure that homeschooling parents would be able to find homeschool friendly evaluators, many of whom are both former teachers and homeschooling parents. We also help homeschoolers find friendly evaluators by publishing a long list of evaluators in each issue of our newsletter. (A much smaller partial list of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency evaluators is available online at the PHAA website.)
Cyber-Charter Schools Open Up Public Home Education Option. Beginning with the 2000-2001 school year, homeschoolers have also had a public home education option -- enrollment in one of a growing number of cyber-charter schools. The parent receives educational help, including a computer, an Internet hook-up, and teachers with whom they consult, but loses the flexibility that many private home educators have come to treasure. They must use a non-religious curriculum that is designed to teach the objectives set by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and they are held accountable by the staff of the cyber-charter school who monitor the student's work and interact with the family on a regular basis. We support giving families as many home education options as possible.
Preserving recognition of the PHAA diploma. In the Spring of 2000 Rep. Tom Armstrong and I organized a meeting of legislators and homeschoolers to discuss fixing problems with the PA home education law. Unfortunately, radical-libertarian homeschoolers took over the process and pushed a complete rewrite of the homeschool law that would remove all accountability. They favored parent-issued diplomas and knew that such diplomas would be lower on a hierarchy if they allowed the continued recognition of homeschool diplomas that did have accountabilty, including the Pennsylvania Homeschoolers Accreditation Agency (PHAA) diploma. When they insisted on eliminating recognition of the homeschool organization diploma as part of their re-write, we mobilized the members of PHAA and with the help of another diploma organization, Buxmont Christian Educational Institute, as well as the help of moderate homeschoolers we were able to kill their bill in the House Education Committee on November 13, 2002.
Equal access to public school activities. In the fall of 2005 we led the successful fight to get Gov. Rendell to sign a bill that gives homeschoolers access to public school activities throughout Pennsylvania.
Legislative Watchdog. We continue to follow legislation and court cases which could impact homeschooling. See the headline articles from back issues of our newsletter for many examples.